A week or so ago we had torrential rains! Friends a couple miles down the road measured 6.5 inches of rain in just a short few hours.
For the most part, I stay out of the garden when things are this wet. But the day after the rain I was anxious to see if any of the stakes holding my tomatoes had fallen over.
If that happens it may not unearth the roots totally, but disturbs them enough that the plants could put all their energy towards ripening the existing tomatoes and not producing more.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing at the end of the season when there’s little time for new tomatoes to form, but August is way too early for that to be desirable.
I can’t remember how Bill and I first staked tomatoes. But eventually, I found steel stakes like those pictured below. Each year I’d get a few more. (They stack easily for storage after the season.)
They’re a 59 inch length including the 14 inch prongs that go into the ground.
They’re sturdy (to a degree) and hold a lot of weight. The description online at Gardener’s Supply indicates they’ll hold over 100 pounds. That sounds about right. The problem comes when it rains a lot and the ground softens. Then the stakes are prone to lean with the weight of the plant and its fruit. That can loosen (pull out) the roots to one degree or another.
Wind intensifies the problem.
And that’s why I was anxious to get out and inspect after that rain.
Could the Problem Be Avoided by NOT Staking?
It could be avoided by not staking and letting the tomatoes sprawl.
BUT, everything has it’s pros and cons.
The first year I gardened I just let the plants sprawl. It only took that one season for me to decided I didn’t like that.
First, it takes more space than I’m willing to give.
Second, I got tired of crickets and slugs feasting on tomatoes laying on the ground.
That can happen with staked tomatoes too, but seldom compared to when plants sprawl.
Tomato plants usually get very large. I only prune when a branch is getting in the way. Or maybe at the end of the season when I know that there’s no time for new fruit to develop.
Tying up the same plant to just one stake would not only get too heavy, but the foliage would be too thick for good air circulation. At least 3 or 4 stakes per tomato plant is ideal. <See the previous picture of tomatoes in the garden.>
By the way, these stakes are perfect for pepper plants. Use the 59 inch ones for peppers that get about 4 feet tall. Shorter ones are available for peppers that grow only 2 1/2 to 3 feet.
(I use old stockings cut in strips to tie plants to the stake.)
Other Methods to Stake Tomatoes
The ways to stake tomatoes are probably endless, but below I’ve mentioned two that really appeal to me. If I were just starting out, I’d think about trying one.
They’d be more secure than what I have and not require the constant vigilance over the entire season.
Cylinders of Concrete Reinforcing Wire
I had a friend who made 4 feet tall, 19 inch cylinders out of concrete reinforcing wire. (You’ll recall from the second picture down in this post https://tendingmygarden.com/winter-gardening-making-it-easier-air-circulation-note-about-slugs/ that wire comes flat. You can then cut and bend it to the shape you want. The 4 inch square openings in the wire are large enough to get your hand in and out with a big tomato.)
T-posts were driven two feet into the ground and he’d weave the wire cylinder over the posts to hold it upright and secure. Never had trouble with wind and heavy rain causing them to fall over.
Utility Panels (a/k/a Cattle Panels)
I don’t have the room for this method, but I like it a lot.
T-posts go in the ground every 5 to 10 feet for the length of your row.
A utility panel (available in various lengths and widths) is then secured to the t-posts. Tomatoes are planted every 2 or 3 feet.
Each plant can be tied to the panel after it’s about a foot or two tall and then it’ll take care of itself. No need to worry about more tying or pruning. The few branches that end up on the ground are not much of a problem. You can leave them or cut them off; whatever you prefer.
Final Thoughts and Two More Pictures
Because of the cold in May, I didn’t transplant tomatoes into garden beds until the last day of May and the first week in June. Needless to say, I was into mid July before getting a tomato.
It was worth the wait!